Rudy Giuliani returned on April 25, 2006, from his first, unofficial forays on the presidential campaign trail to accept an award from the heterodox, New York-based conservatives who made him.
“It’s like coming home,” Mr. Giuliani told the members of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
Standing at a podium at Cipriani’s midtown ballroom, Mr. Giuliani waved a green copy of the think tank’s in-house publication, City Journal, and added, “If there was kind of like a charge of plagiarism for political programs, I’d probably be in a lot of trouble because I think we plagiarized most of them, if not all of them, from the pages of the City Journal and from the thinking and analysis of the Manhattan Institute.”
Now, the embattled but implausibly buoyant Mr. Giuliani is still in with a shot at the Republican nomination and the presidency, and the institute is hoping for its apotheosis moment: a chance to export “broken windows” policing, antiwelfare policies and tuition vouchers around the world.
“We’re not into empire-building,” said Lawrence Mone, the president of the Manhattan Institute. “But we are open to expanding our influence into as many different places as we possibly can.”
As they prepare for their 30th anniversary, Mr. Mone and the socially eclectic, fiscally conservative contrarians who have their headquarters in a drab and green-file-cabinet-lined office on Vanderbilt Avenue understand that they have a once-in-a-lifetime vehicle in Mr. Giuliani.
Not only have a uniquely resonant set of events—the attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath—conspired to make a short, twice-divorced New Yorker a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, but they have given a national platform to a candidate whose policy dossier is built nearly from scratch on the theories of academics.
“I can’t imagine any other instance or any on the horizon where a think tank has that direct an influence,” said author Tom Wolfe, who, though not a member of the Institute, has acted as its de facto historian. “It would probably do great things for the Manhattan Institute.”
Fred Siegel, a Cooper Union history professor, former editor of the City Journal and the author of The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life, said that besides Bill Clinton, who had his thinking shaped by the centrist ideas of the Democratic Leadership Council, Mr. Giuliani is the first presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (adherents to the ideas of the progressive New Republic) to represent so faithfully the platform of a local idea factory.
“The Manhattan Institute picks up here [in New York] what the D.L.C. picks up nationally,” said Mr. Siegel. “Giuliani and Clinton come from the idea that liberalism is failing.”
Mr. Siegel—a Democratic urban-renewal specialist with neoconservative tendencies—is characteristic of a group that is hard to pin down ideologically.
“They are called conservative, but they are really not,” said Mr. Wolfe. “They are realistic.”
The institute has a long tradition of intellectual peculiarity.
An odd assortment of pro-Reagan academics, the group was started in 1978 by a former British fighter pilot and with the financial backing of a Wall Street investor who went on to run the C.I.A.. The institute reached a modicum of notoriety in the mid-80’s by commissioning well-written books on urban issues, most notably Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, which was about welfare. They also held lot of talks and conferences, many with open bars, at venues like the Harvard Club.
But the institute really made a name for itself challenging the liberal beliefs that governed New York City as it crumbled around them. Mr. Wolfe first encountered the organization when its members invited him to a 1998 conference about the lessons that could be drawn from his novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, which they saw as a clear-eyed depiction of a degraded city. (Since then, he has become a loyal reader of City Journal and the institute’s most famous fan.)
The institute includes some large personalities.
Mr. Wolfe’s closest associate there, for example, is Myron Magnet, a rotund university professor who wears bushy white mutton chops and capes and carries canes with gold knobs. Mr. Magnet is best known for having written The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass.
And Heather Mac Donald, one of the group’s most prolific members, especially on matters of public order, writes in the autumn edition of City Journal of “a second new population invading Skid Row: homeless advocates.” In her time at the institute, which hired her for her first steady writing job out of graduate school, she has become a nationally known figure on policing.
Back in 1989, when their greatest champion first ran for mayor, the group dismissed him.
“There were certain psychological barriers to embracing Rudy Giuliani at that point,” said Mr. Mone in a conference room decorated with framed issues of City Journal and bookshelves that a bookstore might label as “Conservative Urban Planning.” “He had a reputation of prosecuting people on Wall Street, and there was an impression that he might be another John Lindsay, another liberal Republican, that he wasn’t really conservatively oriented.”
Four years later, however, Mr. Giuliani entered the fold at the behest of Mr. Siegel, then the editor of City Journal.
Mr. Siegel, who had supported David Dinkins for mayor (in 1989, against Rudy Giuliani), saw New York on the threshold of total ruin. Appalled by the disorder overrunning his own Brooklyn neighborhood, Mr. Siegel says he actually approached Mr. Dinkins in the winter of 1991, begging him to consider an approach to policing that targeted the symptoms of disorder rather than attempting to remedy sociological root causes.
“All I got was incredulity,” said Mr. Siegel. “He doesn’t believe that policing has any effect on crime.”
Dismayed, Mr. Siegel attached himself to Mr. Giuliani’s nascent second bid for office as a senior adviser, and watched as the former U.S. attorney educated himself.
“Rudy at this time is studying,” said Mr. Siegel. “He gives himself the academic equivalent of a full baptist immersion.”
“At some point,” he added, “all the dots connect, and they all come from the Manhattan Institute.”
That point in question seems to have been a conference in March of 1992 at the Roosevelt Hotel, with writers from a seminal edition of City Journal (the one Mr. Giuliani would eventually wave onstage at Cipriani) lecturing on how to turn the city around.
“Rudy came to that conference himself,” recalled Mr. Mone. “And sat there as a guest, and just started taking copious notes, just like a graduate student seminar.”
Mr. Giuliani then received personal tutelage from the “broken windows” criminologist George Kelling, who met privately with him and his staff for what Mr. Kelling called “service training.” The meetings, he said, went long.
“He was different from his persona,” remembered Mr. Kelling. “His persona was very forbidding, strident. In the meeting he was very attentive. He wasn’t like most politicians disassociating half the time.”
At a certain point in the lesson, Mr. Giuliani asked Mr. Kelling to set up a meeting between himself and William Bratton, the chief of New York City’s transit police and another leader in the broken windows school of policing. Mr. Bratton went on to become Mr. Giuliani’s police commissioner.
“In terms of crime control, he was a dream come true,” said Mr. Kelling, who supports Mr. Giuliani’s presidential candidacy. “For me, how many academics get their ideas tested in full view and consistently in New York City?”
Along with his performance on Sept. 11, cutting crime in New York has become Mr. Giuliani’s principal calling card as he campaigns around the country. But he also owes his ideas in other key areas to the institute.
Mr. Giuliani bought wholesale the institute’s argument that the key to turning around public higher education was by demanding higher standards for admission and promotion, a practice he instituted in the CUNY school system. He adopted the institute’s thinking that welfare led to a breakdown in the city’s social and economic fabric, and eventually stripped the city’s welfare rolls. After reading the institute’s papers and articles in favor of school vouchers, he changed the policies of his administration.
“Rudy’s thinking evolved,” Mr. Mone said. “He said, you know, vouchers need to be part of the solution to this.”
Not all of the institute’s ideas stuck, at least not initially. According to Mr. Siegel, Mr. Giuliani participated in private seminars in 1992 about privatizing hospitals and health care, but judged the problem too complicated and unrealistic to tackle.
But for the most part, Mr. Giuliani’s agenda read like a volume of City Journal, and as crime fell, order increased and the city entered a period of rebirth, liberals all of a sudden started looking at the group of oddball conservatives with more respect.
“It’s enormously gratifying,” said Mr. Mone. “The transformation is palpable and you understand your role in it.”
Mr. Siegel says that while Mr. Giuliani used the Manhattan Institute’s ideas to govern, he suspects that the former mayor’s allegiance to the institute during the campaign has limits.
“This is a very different kind of campaign than when he runs for mayor in 1993,” said Mr. Siegel. “Then, there is no Republican Party, he is free, he has a marvelous freedom to shape his own agenda. He doesn’t have to attach himself to a whole national apparatus with a whole set of regional issues that are different. Running for president is about coalition-building.”
Very different indeed.